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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Thursday, 25 June 2009

And I fall, face down (;-)

Ten years ago this week I was on retreat in Salisbury Cathedral Close in preparation for my ordination as a priest (an event the mechanics of which generated a fair amount of steam in some quarters recently). It was an unusual retreat in that my 2 week old son and his mum came too and we stayed in a flat with a lovely view of the spire, pretty much next door to Mompesson House. I did go to all the addresses and worship though. Strangely enough, three years later my daughter aged 4 months accompanied her mum (with help from her Granny) on my wife's ordination retreat, so don't try to tell me there's no flexibility for families in the C of E ministry machinery! This week I have a friend and former colleague in the same place waiting for the same event on Saturday.

I have recently been given the task of Deanery Warden of Ordinands, and we have also just had a candidate from Stebbing recommended for training for stipendiary ministry on her BAP (:-)). These things together have started me thinking again about the nature of priestly ministry. At college and during my diaconal year there was much rumination about "priestly formation", and stuff was said and things were reflected upon. Probably about ten years ago last Sunday night my rector and I locked ourselves in the church so I could practice presiding at the Eucharist. I have to say that was the most memorable element of any practical priestly formation I had. Namely, don't spill the wine and don't drop the wafers!

You may recall that this blog began as my reflections on a leadership course. That was a good course in the end as it really helped me to get some things (like admin which I hate) sorted out, but it still left me a bit blank in terms of what it is to be a priest today (and yes I have read the book)

Looking back to my own vocational journey and reflecting on the journeys of some others that I am encountering at the moment, both in the blogosphere and in real time and space, I am increasingly of the opinion that vocation to ministry is most genuinely discerned and shaped by people other than those who are called. Other people said to me (and to countless others I know), "you should think about ministry). I did, and look where it got me! Now I am beginning to wonder whether a bolt-on to that is that the very being of a priest is defined by the people and the context in which s/he is ministering. I once had a spiritual director who was very strong on "inhabiting the [Biblical] narrative", but he also very wisely advised me to let the place in which I minister form me as a minister.

On the whole I think this approach has worked for me, mainly because I have always worked in benefices of diverse tradition, so depending on where I am (liturgically or pastorally) on a given day, who I am (or actually, who I am being - not quite acting a role, but not far off sometimes, terrible isn't it!) will vary with the context of the church.

That sounds as though I only regard priesthood as a role rather than a state of being. I don't do ontological change (tempting though it is to imagine the changed status of a baby in the womb of a woman when she is ordained,) but I do think that holy orders are about who you are more than what you do. In fact I believe that about Christianity, about the local church anyway, more and more these days. Its not about programmes and events, its about relationships and "making ourselves available".

Dredging my memory for the aforementioned local ordinand a while back for pictures and metaphors for priesthood, I could only remember the icon - not being God but representing God for someone, pointing onward to Christ, and the periscope mirror - enabling people to see and encounter, communicate with and receive from God, without getting in the way ourselves.

These are really helpful for me to reflect (ha ha) on now, because in daily life theological proactivity is frequently just "What day is it tomorrow?" and theological reflection is usually "what day was it yesterday?"

I have some quiet/reading days scheduled later this month so I might spend a while these things and get back to you.


  1. 'And I fall, face down (;-)'
    You're funny!

    Yes, your article has caused quite a stir, it's been interesting reading.

    I think some of what you say fuels my own minister's decision to always preach to the left. It does sometimes leave her a little blocked by wooden pariphernalia but I suspect it is motivated by a desire not to block people's view of the cross in our church...emm...it is taken quite literally

  2. I look forward to seeing you at the meetings for wardens of ordinands :o)


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